Public hearing set for 2019 Cortland County budget vote

The Cortland County Legislature at a 2016 meeting (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Cortland County legislators are expecting a high turnout Thursday night for a public hearing on budget amendments that could result in the cancellation of several events that draw thousands of people to downtown Cortland every year.

The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. ahead of the official meeting of the Cortland County Legislature.

The legislature will consider adopting the 2019 budget fund as well as adopting the proposed occupancy tax fund allocations for 2019, the latter of which have come under scrutiny due to proposed funding cuts to the Cortland Downtown Partnership, the Cortland YMCA, and Homer Winterfest, among other area nonprofit organizations.

Occupancy tax funds come directly from overnight stays at hotels in Cortland County, and some legislators have argued that downtown Cortland events do little to generate overnight stays.

Prior to tonight's full meeting of the legislature, however, the legislature's Budget and Finance Committee will meet at 4 p.m. to vote on 2019 occupancy tax allocations. The committee will consider allocating $5,000 out of the county's occupancy tax fund to the Cortland Downtown Partnership, which is still a marked decrease from last year's allocation and could still result in downtown events being canceled next year.

Following that meeting, legislators will convene at 6 p.m. to consider adopting the 2019 spending plan as well as adopting the proposed occupancy tax fund allocations for 2019.

The county's proposed $134.2 million budget will increase property tax rates by 1.3 percent. The county has a deadline of Dec. 20 to adopt the spending plan.

Here are the the recommendations from the Cortland County Occupancy Tax Allocation Committee:

Recommendations from the Cortland County Occupancy Tax Allocation Committee for 2019 (Source: Cortland County)

The Cortland Downtown Partnership is currently slated to receive zero dollars from the occupancy tax fund. To put that into perspective, the partnership received $20,000 from last year's fund.

"The proposed distribution would completely eliminate all marketing and event support for downtown Cortland," Cortland Downtown Partnership Executive Director Adam Megivern said in a press release last week following the Occupancy Tax Allocation Committtee's 2019 recommendations.

MeGivern said that due to the county's spending cuts, the Cortland County New Year's Eve celebration has been canceled, and other events are at risk of being eliminated—including Chill-A-Bration, Cortland Main Street Music Series, the Great Cortland Pumpkinfest, the Cortland County Halloween Parade, and Taste of Downtown.

"Without direct marketing support to the downtown...the [Cortland Downtown Partnership] will dissolve and tourism and hospitality can be added to the list of failed industries in Cortland County," Megivern said.